Humans have polluted the earth for many centuries, and now the damage is becoming too much for the earth to bear. We dump millions of tons of waste into the ocean, exploit natural resources, endanger countless flora and fauna and cut down our trees.
According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report in 2013, we have 11 years to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45% to limit global warming to 1.5°C, avoiding catastrophic effects.
Year after year, our reckless and misinformed actions are slowly degrading the planet, and even when we theoretically know the damage we are causing, we are unable to change the course of our actions.
So what can we do about it? As Einstein said, we must change our perspective to change the conditions of our world.
The average American does not experience the devastating effects of climate change in their daily lives. With the rise of a more tech-leaning world, we are moving away from nature every day, making it difficult to care about a world we know little about.
A recent Gallup poll shows that more than half of Americans do not believe that climate change will affect them personally. As a result, they end up taking actions like using single-use plastic bags or supporting businesses that pollute the environment.
Animals can consume indigestible single-use plastics, leading to deterioration of their health; while supporting companies or industries that heavily pollute our world can cause a steady increase in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide or methane.
Ultimately, these seemingly insignificant actions combined with poor environmental education contribute to the further degradation of our environment.
Therefore, improving environmental knowledge is one of the most important issues in the world today. Education will enable future generations to care about their environment and repair the damage done to our planet.
The disconnect between humans and the world is even greater in the oceans, where the devastating effects of pollution, global warming and habitat destruction are life under the sea.
Although water bodies cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, average American knowledge of water bodies is limited to swimming pools. Most Americans are unaware of the beauty of the oceans and the devastation that occurs there.
This “out of sight, out of mind” mentality is damaging because our oceans are the planet’s greatest asset.
The oceans contain 94% of life on earth, produce almost half the oxygen we breathe and contain 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere. Thus, paralyzing the oceans is a huge threat to humanity.
Before we dive into environmental education, let’s review some of the most pressing ocean issues.
An example of marine pollution is plastic pollution in our oceans.
By 2050, scientists expect more plastic than fish in the oceans (by weight). As a result, many marine animals are forced to feed on plastic, but since the plastic is indigestible, it remains trapped in their digestive system, occupying the gastric space intended for food.
Approximately more than one million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and approximately 300,000 dolphins or porpoises are affected by plastic pollution each year, according to Coastal CA.
Plastic directly and indirectly affects the health of marine organisms by affecting coral reefs, an organism and an ecosystem. Coral reefs are vital to the health of the marine biome, supporting over 25% of marine life. However, they are threatened by human activities.
For example, the probability of a coral being diseased increases from 4% to 89% when it comes into contact with plastic, as shown in eAccording to the article “Plastic Waste Associated with Disease on Coral Reefs” by Joleah B. Lamb, excess plastic near corals could eradicate the home of thousands of marine animals. The coral reefs as well as the marine life living inside them would die.
Despite recent attention to this problem, plastics are not the only form of pollution affecting underwater biodiversity. Nutrient pollution caused by farm runoff contains pesticides and is high in nitrogen and phosphorus which cause an overabundance of algal blooms.
This causes eutrophication, where algae smothers other marine life by cutting out sunlight and depleting oxygen levels as it decomposes. The food chain in this body of water would be compromised and habitats would deteriorate. Nearly 415 dead zones have been identified worldwide due to eutrophication.
Another type of pollution occurs when factories or coal-fired power plants release chemicals into rivers and oceans. An example would be mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Mercury released to water is consumed by fish such as tuna and bioaccumulates, so when we eat these fish there is mercury present in our bodies. Nearly 90% of the mercury in our body comes from mercury in fish.
The immense amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that causes global warming also affects water bodies. When carbon dioxide comes in contact with water, it forms carbonic acid. This leads to the decrease in the pH of the oceans every year.
According to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Association, the pH of the surface oceans has decreased by 0.1 since the start of the Industrial Revolution, which means that the pH has decreased by 28% since then. All calcifying species will be affected and food webs will be unbalanced.
The decline in biodiversity is disadvantageous, since marine organisms such as phytoplankton produce around 50-85% of our oxygen.
The delicate state of the ocean is made worse by overfishing, illegal fishing and poaching. The irresponsible approach to fishing alters the balance of our ecosystem, which degrades food chains and food webs, leading to a further decline in biodiversity.
Warming oceans are causing coral reefs to bleach, which can lead to the loss of up to 25% of marine life, according to NOAA.
All of these issues arise because of the disparity between humans and the ocean environment. But, it is difficult for those who have almost no connection with the ocean to better understand the ocean.
Additionally, most schools never teach about our hydrosphere or have a strong science curriculum, so most people grow up without this vital knowledge of our oceans. In fact, only about 20% of the population has any scientific or environmental knowledge, according to tenstrands.org.
Climate change is a difficult concept to understand because it is a very complex and abstract fact; it is difficult to link all the effects of climate change.
Improving education about our own world is crucial if we are to save the environment. By harnessing the power of education to teach the public about the effects of their daily activities and the actions they can take, we can gradually improve the world.
Environmental education has several levels. Simply learning what is causing global warming is unlikely to inspire action. To be environmentally active and globally aware, everyone must also be educated about the effects of global warming, feel a personal connection to our planet, and learn how to keep up to date with environmental policies.
However, I was confused on how to bridge the disparity between the ocean and the majority of the public if they never see the ocean, so I interviewed Research Analyst Lucie Hazen from the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions to better understand how to forge an emotional connection with the ocean.
Hazen said there are “big guys” in the United States who feel no personal connection to the ocean and therefore ignore the devastation, so it’s essential to harness the power of social media and technology to educate these “big means”. .”
She added that documentaries such as “Blue Planet” capture the horrors that occur under the sea and evoke strong emotions in audiences, and that technology such as virtual reality allows the user to experience the ocean more close.
Dr Erika Woolsey, an Ocean Design Lecturer at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions and founder of the environmental nonprofit Hydro, does exactly that; she uses virtual reality to educate the public about the wonders of the ocean.
I had the opportunity to see his work and I was fascinated by it. I wanted to understand her opinion on ocean environment education and arrange an interview with her.
According to Dr Woolsey, encouraging the public to “think like a scientist” is the best way for them to become more involved in climate justice and environmental action.
“Thinking like a scientist” can range from quizzing the media with misinterpreted information such as climate change denial to exploring or spending time in nature.
Giving everyone the ability to become a scientist would make them more likely to engage in climate activism and change their own lifestyles.
Dr Woolsey agrees that seeing and understanding the vast destruction happening in the world could sometimes make others helpless. “Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do anything,” Dr Woolsey said.
These words are particularly significant in the current political climate.
Although our current administration in the United States is opposed to beneficial climate policies, it is our responsibility to remain conscious and aware of the environment, whether by taking daily action to mitigate climate change or by being politically active by through protests and demonstrations.
It is important to remember that we should not have to wait for government action through our current administration to make a difference in our world. California is spearheading this environmental policy reform movement in the United States with bills such as SB 837 on offshore drilling prevention and AB 1826 on waste management.
Their actions begin to change their communities and, ultimately, our world.
In order to make a difference today, educating the public and inspiring them to take action to help the planet is the first step.
In studying climate change education and talking with Dr Woolsey and Dr Hazen about climate change education, one thing became clear: for people to take action, they need to feel a deeper understanding of our world and be motivated by a love for this beautiful planet.
Editor’s note: This article was first published on the Project Planet blog page. Planet Project is a non-profit environmental organization that aims to educate the public about global warming or climate change to help create an active and environmentally conscious population. I am the founder and CEO of this organization.